By Joe Bachman
Empowerment, opportunity, and overcoming incredible odds — all in a year’s work for twelve graduates of Project SEARCH.
“We’re proud of you.”
Words from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who was on hand to congratulate and address twelve interns on their graduation from Project SEARCH on Wednesday night at the Wisconsin Rapids Community Theatre Auditorium. The program, established in 1996, facilitates employment training for young adults with disabilities.
“We know that one of the best things to come out of a program like this is you get to share the dignity that comes from work,” said Walker. “The confidence that you’ve got, the skills that you’ve evolved are things that you can apply going forward”
In 2014, Opportunity Development Centers (ODC) became one of only seven agencies who were awarded a new Project SEARCH program. In this program, students in with disabilities spent their last year of high school focused on a transition into the workplace.
Project SEARCH teamed up with ODC, Aspirus Riverview, and Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools (WRPS) to provide student internships through various hospital departments, as well as a full-time teacher dedicated to the program. The effort coordinated in large part from Ann Lepak, Director of Employment Services for ODC.
“We really started the program from the ground up and building the program from nothing to what it is today,” said Lepak.
More importantly, this paves a way for students to find the necessary training
“This is important, because in the past, individuals coming out of the school system really didn’t have a great way to go directly to community employment,” said Lepak. “This really helps the students participate in an internship within a host business — it’s a nice way to transition from going to school to the world of work in a more structured manner.”
At the time of the ceremony, three of the interns have already been hired on for work in the Wisconsin Rapids community. One of which will work at Aspirus Riverview hospital in the patient rehab center.
The ceremony involved the twelve graduating students, as they gave individual readings of what Project SEARCH means to them. The night was closed out by handing out diplomas and certificates, with a final group picture with Aspirus, ODC, WRPS staff, and the governor.
The 2016 Project SEARCH graduating class:
David Akey, Dakodah Allworden, Nichole David, Taylor Kreiner, Jordan Markley, Austin Mathewson, Emily Moore, Colton Pierce, Tabitha Reetz, Cobrettii Ross, Anthony Thames, and Ryan Wills.
Aspirus Riverview Coordinator Christina Williams shared words from staff that worked with the interns this year. Words like “diligent”, “enthusiastic” “committed” “uplifting” and others were used, but one hospital employee summed it up best to describe the overall attitude that these interns brought to the program.
“Best smiles ever.”